December 16, 2009

Christmas carols have folk roots

by Benjamin Graham

The popular Christmas carol ‘While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks’ used to be sung to the tune of folk song Ilkley Moor, a hymn expert has claimed.

Professor Jeremy Dibble, of Durham University, said the tune was the first folk song to be accepted for use in the Church of England.

“While shepherds watched their flocks was the first carol to cross over from secular traditions to the church,” Dibble said.

“It was the only Christmas hymn to be approved by the Church of England in the 18th century and this allowed it to be disseminated across the country with the Book of Common Prayer,” he added.

Christmas carols – many of which have folk roots – were considered too secular to be sung in church services during the 18th century.

It was only by the end of the 18th century that carols began to be sung in churches.

Before they were accepted for use in churches, carols were sung around the hearth in homes and pubs.

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